International Law and Organisation Essay Example

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The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

Case Analysis Report

Introduction, Views and Issues

Sixty years ago the UN General Assembly was witness to the historic «Atoms for Peace» address by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The address proposed countries must share with each other information about nuclear materials through a new international agency. Negotiation of several years later led to the creation of what came to be known as IAEA or International Atomic Energy Agency (Weiss, 2003, pp. 34, 37, 41). The IAEA came to be known as an organisation with dual responsibility providing help to countries not having nuclear weapons to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes and monitoring those that had the capability. More than three-and-a-half decades later as NPT or nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty came into existence in 1968, the job of policing member countries on their nuclear activities was granted IAEA. The act of policing was also constituted keeping specifically in view the non-nuclear nations from acquiring nuclear weapons.

NPT is now a worldwide treaty that bans all member nations from acquiring nuclear weapons except China, United Kingdom, Russia, the United States and France. These are nuclear nations. The treaty provides the foundation and norm in context of an international regime to prevent nuclear weapons spread around the world. The nations that have a subscription to NPT are all that have significant concern, though the exceptions are Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea (Bunn, 1992, pp. 59-72). The former, it must be stated withdrew from it and analysts are of the opinion that it had valid reasons to do so.

Though a former U.S. arms control negotiator, Ambassador Robert T. grey, remarked a decade ago that the NPT agreement was in many ways as significant as the UN Charter itself, yet there is a widespread belief now that the NPT regime stands battered to some extent today and needs actions that can strengthen it (ElBaradei, 2003, pp. 47-48). With regard to NPT’s relevance as on date, that is one of the recognisable issues.

Context of the issue

Not only battered, major blows have also been suffered by NPT in the recent past. North Korea, Iraq and Iran have been observed hiding possible activities related to nuclear weapons from IAEA inspectors. These include plutonium separation and uranium enrichment also. What is surprising is that Iraq was found hiding these activities after Persian Gulf War of 1991 after UN ordered more stringent and intrusive inspections. Similarly, intelligence inputs revealed North Korea on a similar weapons programme.

United States has been most vocal and practically up in arms against nations that it finds or «feels» has deviated from the path of NPT, but what is disturbing is that on its own ground it has ignored some obligations that are as binding on it as on other nations. The US has been targeted as observing double standards in this regard.

For example, new types of nuclear arms building were undertaken by the Bush administration, but those did not fall under the current standards of testing. The US has been claiming no testing is required since they fall outside of the ambit of current IAEA rules and regulations. So while the US is acquiring nuclear weapons for its own defence — weapons that are more improvised — it opposes any other nations from doing so. This is regarded as another issue faced by the NPT regime and even a threat to it (Drell, 2003, p.3).

On account of the issues as these the five-yearly reviews of NPT held at the UN are believed to be a boring business by political analysts (Kaplan, 2005). These are considered to be diplomatic boilerplates getting vague resolution caps during each session. The NPT, thus, is considered as on the edge of obsolescence and teetering in a strange crisis.

North Korea, as mentioned above, has already done treaty-abrogation, thus beginning a trend that might have a very unsound consequence in the years to come. It is held that since it abrogated the treaty, it has already processed so much of plutonium which can last it for about a dozen bombs. Iran, although it is not evident and no cries made against it at the moment, is suspected to follow suit. The loopholes in the treaty that were previously under wraps have begun to be exploited and the guarantee doesn’t seem to be apparent that it will remain as a useful tool fit enough to constrain nuclear ambitions of the nations.

There is reluctance on suggestions for its improvements and whatever little is being done is being done only cosmetically. Some years back, the UN’s chief atomic weapons inspector, Mohamed ElBaradei’s suggestion to freeze uranium enrichment came under attack from none other than Japan, France and the United States. The reasons were obviously commercial and it has been clear by now that despite a dangerously looming crisis waiting to be averted, no one is actually willing to take that all-important first step.

The loopholes that have crept into the NPT and thus weakened its impact are being attributed to a number of factors. One, the technology used for making nuclear energy is almost the same as that for making nuclear weapons. There is no clear definition that can separate the intention involving the two. That apart, two developments have taken place in the recent times. Since science has made inroads into even the most unsophisticated countries and black-marketers developed far better ingenuity, it has become easy for these countries to know uranium-enriching techniques.

Secondly, intelligence-monitoring has some inherent flaws and limitations. The limitations are more pronounced in closed societies; being closed makes them possible to evade inspectors, so much so to the extent of building nuclear facilities in a covert manner.

Knowing this, the Iran’s actions, for example, have been far from being legal; even though they claim they are doing so for peaceful purposes. In others words, a country is allowed by NPT to stand on the line that is hazy about nuclear weaponry vis-a-vis nuclear energy, accumulate the former, then cross this line, abrogate NPT and declare itself as a nuclear nation. It s not that NPT does not allow abrogation; the fact is it does, through a provision in Article X that cites national security measures as a possible cause for doing the same. Taking advantage of this provision, Iran has been able to build an enrichment facility and NPT does not have any such provision vested with treaty signatories who can react to this sort of violation. It is because it is devoid of any enforcement clause.

This issue is throwing serious political challenges, particularly between Iran and the United States and possibly vitiating an overall international order if not handled well in time. There is a negatively prevailing UN-Iran antagonist atmosphere, which is more ingrained in the struggle primacy that the US wants to obtain in the Middle East, considered to be responsible for shaping its geopolitics. This does not end here. The conflict is likely to have a profound influence through untoward consequences also on rules-based regimes, legal frameworks and global governance mechanism of this century (Leverett, 2013).

Major actors, interests and role in handling the issue

Of all the state actors in the NPT, there is a unanimous voice that says that it is in a precarious state. North Korea’s 2003 withdrawal, failure to check Iran’s moves and then this US-India nuclear deal are but a few dents that the NPT has suffered in the recent times. The issues are clearly far-reaching and the damage ostensibly beyond repair. Further to this, in the international arms race, there are ‘doves’ and ‘hawks’, whose commonalities vanish diametrically opposed when it comes to recognising the issues in NPT. Liberal arms control nations believe that the real cause of the non-compliance issue rises mainly from the nuclear states who do not want to commit themselves to real disarmament. Nuclear-weapon states, thus, are being selfish in this regard by twisting opinion in their favour and disregarding policies so that they do not have to commit and/ or bargain (Walker, 2004).

So practically, both nuclear-enabled and non-nuclear enabled states have each a point of advocacy by its side. As a result of this, none addresses the issue in its true spirit. This is supposed to be on account of three factors, which have a profound effect on why the issues, particularly of non-compliance, are there.

One, the NPT has structural weaknesses; two, there have been new international developments in the area of international security; and three, there is an energy paradox. One might be compelled to think that NPT is a global norm now since it has almost 190 signatories, but the fact is its structural dilemmas have exposed it progressively to each of these nations (El Baradei, 2006, p. 23).

The most serious structural issue, however, is its energy dimension. It was crafted in the time when nuclear energy had begun to be considered as a blessing; at that point of time little was thought about what could differentiate civilian nuclear proliferation from military proliferation. Certain nations exploited this very loose end by taking civilian proliferation right up to the military application level. This point is only one step away from final production of a nuclear weapon. So it can be said that this inherent flaw in NPT left nuclear energy comfortably in the lap of nuclear weaponry.

Current state of affairs

It contains eleven articles and a preamble. It is usually called a three-pillar treaty, which are non-proliferation, disarmament and right to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. But the current state of affairs is not any different from what it has been regarded some time back. Third World states, in particular, think that NPT is a conspiracy hatched by «nuclear haves» to exert control over «nuclear have-nots». Article VI of the NPT is often mentioned in this regard (Squassoni, 2005). It clearly states that nuclear nations will have to follow the policy of liquidating their nuclear stockpiles and pave the way for disarmament. But this is something that the states that do not have nuclear capabilities do not see this happening (Thomas, 2004; Sovacool, 2011, pp. 187-190).

Currently the mood with which the NPT is taken by its member nations is that of the disenchantment and disappointment. This is because not much progress is being made towards several resolutions that have been adopted from time to time. Disarmament is one issue that nuclear states are not serious to debate about. The issue is now so out of bounds that even the International Court of Justice (ICJ) had to comment on it. ICJ, not long ago, remarked as this: «there exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control«. When the US is confronted, it points out that it already has disarmed itself of more than 13,000 nuclear weapons since the end of Cold War II.

Prospects for future

The road ahead for NPT is daunting, although arguably it is laden with both opportunities and challenges. NPT’s grand bargain of disarmament by nuclear states, abstaining by non-nuclear states and use of nuclear technology for energy generation is as much relevant today as it was at the time of treaty’s inception. Even as NPT regime has broken, bent and frayed many times during the past four decades, one thing that is good about it is that it has not collapsed at all. It is a positive feature that could be banked upon. Meanwhile, the tide of proliferation has slowed, there is increased level of cooperation and dialogue between State actors, and norms of disarmament and non-proliferation have been institutionalised.

But the non-compliance by few countries is a grave area of concern as these are such transgressions that put at stake international peace and security. One recommendation that might work to check this is not by reining these nations in but urging nuclear states to disarm and disengage from any further proliferation. That holds the key to trust building among all nations. At present this much-needed trust is lacking.


Bunn, G. (1992). Arms Control by Committee: Managing Negotiations with the Russians Stanford University Press. Stanford.

Drell, S. et al. (2003). A Strategic Choice: New Bunker Busters vs. Nonproliferation. Arms Control Today. Washington.

El Baradei, M. (2004). Rethinking Nuclear Safeguards. The Washington Post. 14 June. Washington.

Kaplan, F. (2005). The Real Nuclear Option. Available from: [Accessed May 26, 2014].

Leverett, F. (2013). The Iranian Nuclear Issue, the End of the American Century, and the Future of International Order, 2 Penn. St. J.L. & Int’l Aff. 240.

Sovacool, B.K. (2011). Contesting the Future of Nuclear Power: A Critical Global Assessment of Atomic Energy, World Scientific, pp. 187–190.

Squassoni, S. (2005). NPT Compliance: Issues and Views. Available from: [Accessed May 26, 2014].

Thomas, G. Jr. (2004). Avoiding the Tipping Point. Arms Control Association. Available from: [Accessed May 26, 2014].

Weiss, L. (2003). Atoms for Peace. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Chicago.

Walker, W. (2004). Weapons of Mass Destruction and International Order. Adelphi Paper, 370. International Institute for Strategic Studies. London.